Excerpt – The Ceremony at the U.N.

Monday, May 4, 2082

New York City – United Nations Headquarters

 

Where’s Julia?

Uneasiness had wormed its way inside her. Madeleine told herself to stay calm, but she was angry at herself for being so nervous. Quit pacing around like a bloody fool!

Madeleine knew how to keep a lid on her emotions. And when she did so, she knew she could see things that others might miss. That had been her edge throughout her entire career. It was that kind of self-control that allowed her to work her way to the top of the United Nations organization.

But her discussions with Julia Moro, her hand-picked U.N. Security Director, had her rattled. The dedication ceremonies for the new U.N. headquarters were less than an hour away, and the closer they got the more antsy she seemed to get. But there was no reason for that, she kept telling herself. She looked around the big rotunda where all the dignitaries where gathering and saw that everything was calm. But then she started wondering, was it too calm? It seemed like the sense of everything being normal and going according to plan was having the opposite effect on her.

There’d been warnings of a possible attack, and there’d been incidents in New York City that may have been related to the United Nations. But that may was important. There was no real proof of anything. There were rumors and theories that had taken on a life of their own, but Madeleine had to remind herself that none of them had checked out. There wasn’t a single hard fact to suggest that the ceremony wouldn’t end up going smoothly. She could discount all of the worriers – all of them, except Julia.

“Madeleine, I have a bad feeling.”

Two days earlier they’d been making another security review, going over every detail of their protection plan for the new U.N. headquarters. It was probably the hundredth time they’d done it. They’d been at it for hours, and they were both tired. But then Julia edged herself forward in her chair and repeated her warning.

“I know we haven’t isolated a specific threat,” Julia said, “but every instinct tells me something’s wrong. It’s too tempting. It’s the gathering of world leaders, it’s the dedication of the new building, it’s the unveiling of the sculpture of the Women for Peace leaders – the whole thing is just a big, ripe target for anyone wanting to do us harm.”

Madeleine didn’t know how to deal with that. Even if Julia’s warnings were true, what more could they do that they weren’t already doing? If she got caught up in Julia’s sense of danger, she risked being frozen with panic and indecision. And where was Julia at that moment? She said she was chasing after something important, but Madeleine would have felt more reassured if she were somewhere that she could see her.

In the meantime, Madeleine knew they had to move ahead with the ceremony. Everything was on schedule. There were no alarm bells going off in her head or anywhere else. The dedication was starting in a few minutes, and she had to trust that their security measures would keep things running smoothly.

 

Madeleine stared at the Circle of Thirteen – the huge sculpture of the thirteen leaders of Women for Peace. This large, bronze statue had been inspired by the scene from their final, tragic moments. Now it dominated the rotunda of the new building. Once it had finally been unveiled, Madeleine found herself startled by its power. She forgot her anxieties for a few moments and just tried to absorb it.

For the last several weeks Laria Kwon, the artist who created it, had insisted that her large, bronze artwork be covered up to protect it from all the construction work in the building. Kwon’s grandmother, Marta Kwon, was one of the thirteen women depicted in the sculpture, so she had a special reason for wanting everything done just right. The workers had finally unveiled it just before dawn. Now, Madeleine could see it in the way that was intended: bathed in morning sunlight from the large clerestory windows on Fifth Avenue and accented with multi-colored beams streaming down from the huge chandelier that was hanging above. The dramatic lighting created a rhythmic pattern over the polished surface. At nearly four meters in height, the sculpture was the dramatic focal point to the entrance of the new U.N. headquarters.

This was no ordinary statue. Madeleine Boissart didn’t consider herself sentimental, but even she couldn’t resist the pull of the scene that was depicted in the sculpture. Everyone knew where they’d been on that day, when the captivity of The Thirteen had reached its tragic climax. In Madeleine’s case, it was a café in Perugia where she and her fellow post-doctoral students watched in horror as the events unfolded on the vid-screen in front of them. Kwon’s sculpture had captured the immediacy of that moment. The thirteen women were gripping each other in what would be the last seconds of their lives. The emotions in their faces were raw. Fear was mixed with hope; resignation was side by side with defiance. Aayan Yusuf was holding her head high in the way everyone seemed to remember. Wang-li Minh was still deep in meditation, while Magdalena Garcia was forever bowed in prayer. At the top of the circle, Deva Chandri was embracing the women by her side, her eyes staring straight ahead, looking somewhere beyond the agony of the moment. The rest of The Thirteen – the original leaders of Women for Peace – held expressions that became seared in the minds of millions on that day twenty-five years earlier. It was an unforgettable moment that had now been captured in bronze – the instant just before catastrophe.

The dignitaries filing in for the New Charter Day ceremony were not the type to be easily impressed, but they all seemed moved by Kwon’s statue. Many stopped to admire it, taking time to walk around and view it from different angles. Seen up close, the sculpture was a clear success. But Madeleine wanted to be sure the rest of the world would be getting the same view. She activated one of the flash-screens floating above her to get a quick video-image. The picture looked good, but it was only a pre-showing. The screen wasn’t yet displaying the full depth of image that the omni-cameras would be transmitting. That test would come a few minutes later, when those self-propelled devices moved themselves into position to transmit images from multiple angles. Once Madeleine gave the signal, the cameras would send out pictures in full, three-dimensional holography. When that happened, more than five billion people world-wide would have an intimate view of the sculpture and the gathering of world leaders. For many viewers, the event would seem to be happening in their own living rooms.

Madeleine wanted everyone in the rotunda to sit down quickly in their reserved seats circling the sculpture, but hardly any of the guests were cooperating. That made her uneasy. The entire history of the United Nations seemed suddenly piled on her shoulders. The last two decades of that history were the heaviest. For the last twenty-four years, since its re-founding in 2058, the U.N. had functioned as the nerve center of a world on the verge of collapse. Any breakdown now, any security breach – anything at all that disrupted this anniversary celebration – would have catastrophic consequences.

Few of the guests, however, seemed fazed by the importance of the occasion. Although the schedule called for the world leaders gathered in the rotunda to move to their seats, but Madeleine was dealing with people who couldn’t resist an outstretched hand or an opportunity to schmooze. She’d have more luck, she thought, with a roomful of preening cats.

She tried urging each of the dignitaries to get to their chairs. Some leaders of the U.N. Legislative Assembly cooperated, but others paid little attention to her. The heads of the Social-Democratic bloc wandered off to the far end of the rotunda to peek into their new meeting chambers before sauntering back. Other members just wandered around as they pleased. The Archbishop of Canterbury was telling a long story to the President of the European Union about her days at the university with Bishop Maria Balewa. To make her point, she pointed up at the bronze figure of her friend, one of The Thirteen portrayed in the sculpture. Madeleine tried to interrupt the story, but they both ignored her. She turned her attention instead to the President of China, a balding, slightly over-weight man with a brittle smile. He seemed ready to follow her to his seat, but then apparently decided he needed to say something to his presidential-counterpart from the United States. To get her attention, he reached over a couple of people to tug at her sleeve. The security details from both countries moved in nervously around them.

[1]

This is hopeless, Madeleine thought. She looked around and found the President of the Russian Federation; he, at least, seemed happy to cooperate. He had his arm around the Prime Minister of the Caribbean Union, and the two of them headed for their seats, laughing as they walked. Madeleine knew there were rumors of a personal relationship between them, but that didn’t bother her. She just wanted them to sit down.

Madeleine tried to calm her fears. Nothing was out of place, she kept telling herself. The guards were pacing slowly around the entrances, as they had been for the last few hours; none of them looked agitated. The electronic identification badges on the guests seemed to be flashing properly. The micro-signaling devices built into the walls and roof weren’t showing any problem. The Mother Grid was monitoring computers around the world, and none of them was reporting any unusual military activity or anything out of the ordinary. None of the aerial or ground surveillance units outside the building had reported anything amiss. The national security teams were all moving calmly around the perimeter of the invited guests. Clearly, they hadn’t seen anything that had them alarmed.

But her anxiety kept growing. There’d been warnings in the last few weeks – many of them. But none of the anonymous electronic messages could be pinned down to a source. Julia and her team had worked with the security services around the world and failed to find anything to verify that there was a real danger. More worrisome were the acts of vandalism and violence that had hit New York in the last few weeks. Two weeks earlier, a firebomb had exploded in Union Square at 3:00 a.m. after a timer had apparently malfunctioned. A few days later, an unexploded bomb had been found in a trash can across from Washington Square. After that, a bomb intended for the Grand Central Market exploded on a train. Nobody had been killed in any of the incidents, but that was more luck than anything else. A wave of graffiti with an ugly, fascist theme had hit the city. Crude drawings of an arrow-and-circle, the mark of Patria, had been etched on several walls. Even though that terrorist organization had disappeared years earlier, that hateful symbol seemed to show up whenever right-wing gangs wanted to intimidate people. Julia seemed to think this was related to this United Nations gathering, but Madeleine wasn’t so sure.

Madeleine was born in France, but she’d lived in New York for almost thirty years. She knew how tough New Yorkers could be. The weather disasters and other environmental disruptions of the 2030’s had hit their city with a greater ferocity than most places, but they had bounced back. And New Yorkers hadn’t been spared any of the other problems that had followed in the wake of the storms and droughts. The cartel that had seized control of the world’s food supply had squeezed the life out of New York’s economy just like everywhere else. But when the power of that criminal enterprise was finally broken, New York came back stronger than ever.

But as resilient as New Yorkers might be, Madeleine knew they could be as jumpy as anyone else. There’d been an undercurrent of anxiety in the city in the last couple of weeks. Every rumor of violent activity brought an outpouring of anguished messages on networking-screens on the walls of buildings throughout the city. In a couple of locations the postings were so voluminous that they filled up the message area, forcing some of the responses on to impromptu flash-screens. Passersby stopping to read the messages sometimes got into arguments with each other. One argument got so heated that it held up traffic on the transit grid for twenty minutes at Broadway and E. 34th.

Madeleine tried to keep this all in perspective, recognizing it for what it was: a generalized sense of fear that often accompanied any major event. Part of her job was to keep the lid on things, calming the concerns of her boss, the Secretary General, and easing any anxiety among her subordinates. She’d been Military-Legal Director of the United Nations for almost a decade, and there’d been incidents almost every year that didn’t amount to anything. Right-wing demagogues from around the world, who seemed continually angry at the U.N.’s social policies, would make some wild denunciations, and then other fringe groups would pick up on it. All of their ranting would work its way down to the lunatic fringe in different corners of the globe, but usually the threats ended right there. She’d seen this before, she told herself. This wasn’t anything new.

But Julia thought differently. Madeleine remembered how she said it.

“We’re dedicating a new building with all the world’s leaders here. That’s reason enough to be concerned. But there’s more to it than that. It’s the unveiling of the statue of the leaders of Women for Peace that has me the most uneasy.”

Julia hadn’t budged from the edge of her chair, as she laid out her thoughts.

“It’s been twenty-five years since The Thirteen were killed. Their story is all over the media. You can’t walk down the street without some new commentary about them trailing along beside you on the news screens. Most of the stories are upbeat – I’ll grant you that. But you and I both know there’s an undercurrent to all this. There’s still a lot of anger and resentment hiding in dark corners.”

“Twenty-five years is a nice round number. It’s the kind of number that captures everyone’s attention. It’s just the right number of years for a lifetime of hate to bubble over in someone’s mind.”

Madeleine remembered Julia staring off at some inner thought as she spoke.

“If I was going to do something, this is when I would do it.”

Madeliene watched Thabo Nyrere, President of the South Africa Federation, shuffle over to his seat in that first row of dignitaries. He sat down, carefully placing his cane on the floor beside his chair. Nyrere was the only current world leader who had spoken at the original signing ceremony for the New Charter at the San Francisco Opera House in 2058. On that bright morning he had talked about his friends within the Women for Peace leadership and how their sacrifice had made the new United Nations possible. There were tears in his eyes that day. And now, twenty-four years later, he was getting ready to speak again, and the tears had returned.

Everyone was finally seated. It was time to activate the omni-cameras. Madeleine gave the signal to the Secretary-General. The dedication ceremony was about to begin.

She felt the buzz of a message on her vid-phone. Was it from Julia?

 

*  *  *

 

Julia’s mind was racing, far out in front of her feet.

As she cut across Madison Avenue, she spun to avoid a taxi that was honking madly at her. But that maneuver forced her into a near collision with a bicycle that sent the rider careening across the pavement. Julia yelled back an apology, but she couldn’t stop. Right now, time was everything.

She reached the other side of the street near E. 84th and began weaving her way down the sidewalk, dodging baby-carriages, people with walkers, and dogs on leashes. Every New Yorker who wasn’t at home watching the U.N. ceremonies seemed to be out on the streets, determined to get in her way. She pushed through the crowd, mumbling excuses, poking furiously at her vid-phone as she tried to make emergency calls.

Her brain was flying in multiple directions. Dark alleyways from her past had suddenly been illuminated, and she wanted to explore them, to find answers to questions that had been gnawing at her for a lifetime. But all of that was for later.

For now, she allowed herself only one quick thought: the nightmares that had plagued her for years were not the dead hand of the past trying to hold her back. Maybe they were the hand of the future pulling her towards this moment.

She had to find Jesse and stop him.

 

*  *  *

 

The blast hit with a roar.

The omni-cameras that had been focused on the dedication speeches were knocked out immediately. People around the world who had been watching the holo-cast of the U.N. ceremonies reacted in horror as a fireball seemed to spread across their living rooms. When that terrible image dissipated, there was a blank, eerie emptiness. Only a few cameras remained functioning. What they showed was a scene of chaos at the new United Nations headquarters. All that was visible were the bright tongues of flame that licked their way across the bronze surface of the thirteen Women for Peace leaders.